TAMPA, Fla. -- You want to know how good a pitcher's stuff is? Ask a catcher.
Better yet, ask a catcher who is acting as a hitter.
Austin Romine, catcher, had the privilege of being the first Yankee to step into the batter's box against Masahiro Tanaka. Five pitches -- and no swings -- later, here was his reaction: "I'm glad he's on our team."
So must the Yankees be, since according to Tanaka, he's only throwing at about 70 percent of his capacity so far.
Romine was one of four Yankees -- Ramon Flores, Antoan Richardson and Adonis Garcia, a non-roster infielder and outfielders, respectively -- to "hit" against Tanaka in his first live batting practice session, and his first impression of Tanaka's stuff could be summed up not in a word, but in a sound.
Watching Tanaka throw a split to Flores as he awaited his turn, Romine let out a "Wooo!" that was clearly audible to reporters standing behind the batting cage.
"I think he threw a split and I had to turn around and ask what the pitch was," Romine said. "I’ve never seen a ball move like that before. I haven’t had the chance to catch him yet, but from a hitting standpoint, like I said, I’m glad he’s on our team."
Tanaka seemed surprised by Romine's assessment. “I don’t recall anyone saying that they’ve never seen anything like that before," he said. "But some people have told me that it’s a really, really good pitch.”
Tanaka threw 25 pitches in five rounds of BP and not only there wasn't there anything resembling a hit, there weren't even any good swings. True, the lineup was hardly Murderer's Row and the pitchers are always ahead of the hitters in early spring, but still, Tanaka's stuff seemed to impress everyone who saw it.
"As good as advertised," said Brian McCann, who caught Tanaka for the first time. "He’s got a great split. It really falls off the table. His motion’s completely the same as his fastball, and that’s the key to getting swings and misses."
On this, both Yankee catchers agreed. "Tracking it in, I didn’t know what it was until it was halfway in," Romine said. "You’re going to see a lot of guys swinging and looking like fools on that pitch."